Dubai unveils new design district with three days of festivities at Meet d3

The entrance space at the Dubai Design District. People are walking between the asymmetrical 'stalagmite' looking decorative installations in green and purple hues.
Meet d3, a public music, fashion and design festival, marked the opening of the Dubai Design District, or d3, earlier this month. Wanders Wagner Architects and Penguincube, future tenants at d3, were responsible for the wayfinding and spatial design of the event, including the entrance installations
(Image credit: TBC)

Dubai Design District – known as d3 – is the latest addition to the city's cultural landscape and was launched at the beginning of the month with Meet d3, a public music, design and fashion festival.

Unlike many of its global contemporaries, d3 is not a story of urban-regeneration. The district, much like its emirate home, is a feat of conjuring something from nothing (albeit with significant financial backing). This sandy lot was originally destined to be a sterile development, slated as the innocuous Dubai Business Park, and was halted by the economic crisis. Acquired by TECOM investments in 2013 – a government entity lead by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid – the district was re-imagined as 'the region’s first master planned hub and incubator for design and fashion excellence.'

In a city peculiarly regimented and segmented by industries and clustered into districts, Dubai aims to ensure swift international integration. Within this context, conjuring a design district from scratch, with a targeted 10,000 tenants to occupy the 11 Woods Bagot-designed buildings delivered in phase one is a highly ambitious and confident statement of intent.

The launch event itself was unrecognisable by Dubai standards – there were no fireworks or record attempts here. Instead, the event confidently signalled its desire to join a growing global network of urban design enclaves. 

The response from the diverse audience was unremittingly positive. Time and again, the sense of inclusivity was remarked upon. It felt like a crowd more representative of this multi-national city than the audiences seen and re-seen at the calendar of established creative events. While it may have felt sterile in comparison to the more ‘organic’ reinventions of the less salubrious areas of western cities, this story of urban generation presents a different kind of potential.

But now the pop-up infrastructure of the Meet d3 event has moved on. Everything from the Andy Wahloo tent to the 'Dragon Skin' ceiling, the outdoor Cinema Akil, fashion stores from Resident and Not Just a Label, and the Restronaut curated food trucks and Bompas and Parr factory were temporary installations. We shall have to wait and see if the inclusive, public spirit of the event will live on.

Ultimately, whether its potential can be realised will depend on ongoing public planning and the concerted efforts of the landlord to continually curate. There have been mutterings of prohibitively high rental prices for start-ups and a few who speak of an overly zealous curation process; access is not only about making the financial cut, prospective tenants must apply and are judged based on their relevance to the future community. However, the weekend's events comprised a mix of 100 creative businesses across art, design, fashion and food; it was a diverse teamsheet that promises much, if it is mirrored in the fledgling community’s tenants.

Richard Wagner, of soon to be tenants Wanders Wagner Architects, the firm behind the event master plan, says this balance is being well struck. ‘What's important is that d3 remains close to the people, that it doesn't become a top-down directive, that they continue to let the designers, the creatives and the users direct the evolution.’ The potential is for proximity to breed opportunity and integration. Only time will tell if the city has the district it wishes existed already.

Aerial view of the Dubai Design District.

Upon completion in 2019, the 21.5 million sq ft site will feature a mix of commercial, food and drink, retail, entertainment and residential real estate

(Image credit: TBC)

Bompass and Par stand at the Dubai Design District. The stand is turquoise and pink.

Bompass and Par brought their chewing gum factory to d3. Visitors could make their own chewing gum from hundreds of flavours. The factory played host to peripatetic dining concept Restronaut's Bompass and Parr dinner

(Image credit: TBC)

A rhomboid ceiling installation that looks like dragon scales.

Wanders Wagner Architects and Penguincube were also behind the interactive 'Dragon Skin' ceiling installation

(Image credit: TBC)

A rhomboid ceiling installation that looks like dragon scales. At night, the dragon scales are shimmering in different colors. People are walking below the installation.

As dusk begins to fall, the 'Dragon Skin' scales start shimmering

(Image credit: TBC)

An art installation that looks like s crystal. It has a gold exterior and a purple interior.

'Wink Space', an experiential installation by Masakazu Shirane and Saya Miyazaki. Photography: Courtesy the artists and d3, 2015

(Image credit: Courtesy the artists and d3, 2015)

Women wearing hijabs are painting a mural that says 'Hand in hand'.

Dubai's first Ben Eine mural was revealed at d3. It reads "HAND IN HAND", a message promoting cross-cultural cooperation through art

(Image credit: TBC)

Massive art installation of four square graphics with a music theme.

Members of the OBEY crew visited Dubai for the first time to live-paste a massive 30 by 8 metre installation comprising four huge square graphics from their music collection

(Image credit: TBC)